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Erik Burgess, Published June 04 2013

Clay same-sex marriage licenses not ready yet

MOORHEAD – While Minnesota’s largest county will begin accepting marriage license applications later this week for same-sex couples, an official here says Clay County might not start doing so for another month.

And the work for county officials doesn’t end at simply changing the forms for a marriage license.

Clay County Recorder Bonnie Rehder said marriage license applications for gay couples might not be available here until July. A bill approved by state legislators in May legalizes same-sex marriage in Minnesota starting Aug. 1.

Officials in Hennepin County said last week that marriage license applications for same-sex couples will be accepted starting Thursday.

“It was a surprise when we heard that Hennepin County was going to start doing that early,” Rehder said. “That’s something that we’re going to consider, but it certainly won’t be in June.”

Each county gets to decide how it wants to replace the gendered terms “bride” and “groom” on the applications, Rehder said. For now, Clay County plans on referring to both of the soon-to-be newlyweds as an “applicant,” the same as in Hennepin County. She’s heard of other counties using “party” or “person.”

But with the new law, it’s not just marriage applications that need a revision. Rehder said there’s a mountain of other forms that need adjusting before any county can roll out the new applications.

“There’s just a lot more to it than a person expects,” she said, as she rattled off a long list of other forms that are affected by the new law, including some documents associated with birth and death certificates.

Clay County could start offering the new applications as early as July, Rehder said, but that isn’t set in stone.

The state has a five-day waiting period after applying for a license before a wedding ceremony can take place.

Officials in St. Paul’s Ramsey County say they will also accept applications from same-sex couples in the next few days. Some couples there have told county officials they’d like to get married at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 1.

Kailyn Allen, president of the Pride Collective and Community Center in Moorhead, said she doesn’t personally know any local gay couples that plan on getting married right at the stroke of midnight.

The couples she knows want a more “traditional” wedding with a big reception, rather than a shotgun midnight event, Allen said. Those couples have also been focusing the past few months on legalizing same-sex marriage, leaving little time for wedding planning.

“They’ve been spending their time focusing on that rather than saving thousands of dollars and booking reception halls,” Allen said.

Councilman Mark Altenburg, who serves on the city’s Human Rights Commission, said he’s spoken with the city manager to ensure that city facilities and parks will be open on Aug. 1, and that city employees will be educated on the new law so they don’t turn any gay couples away by mistake.

“I don’t see it happening on purpose. I would see it happening just by confusion,” Altenburg said. “I don’t anticipate too many problems.”

Rehder said the Clay County Courthouse has no plans to open early that day for any midnight courtroom weddings.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518